Saints 'attack' with Michael Thomas to set tone in first victory

METAIRIE, La. – Defenses did a decent job of bottling up New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas in the first two weeks.

But the Saints uncorked their best offensive weapon during the opening drive on Sunday.

Thomas caught five passes for 50 yards on that opening drive – including two third-down conversions and his first touchdown of the season – to give the Saints a 7-3 lead en route to a 34-13 win at the Carolina Panthers.

“We came out with more intensity and a sense of urgency. We attacked them, we didn’t let them attack us,” Thomas said of the Saints’ first win of the season. “We played confident football and made a lot of huge plays on offense and defense.

“That’s Saints football, and that’s what we’ve been waiting for.”

Thomas finished with a season-high seven catches for 87 yards and now ranks 14th in the NFL in both receptions (17) and receiving yards (221) through Sunday’s games.

The 6-foot-3, 212-pounder has been an obvious focus for opposing defenses – especially in the red zone – because he clearly became the Saints’ go-to guy after they traded receiver Brandin Cooks to New England in March and lost receiver Willie Snead to a three-game suspension to start the year.

But the Saints during the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era have always tried to make it impossible for defenses to key in on just one guy because they spread the ball around and use so many formations.

Two of Thomas’ catches on that opening drive Sunday came when the Saints split rookie running back Alvin Kamara out wide. Kamara was followed by a cornerback both times, which allowed Thomas to get matched up against linebacker Thomas Davis. Brees quickly targeted Thomas on both plays for gains of 11 and 12 yards.

“It was big,” Payton said of the tone New Orleans set with that opening drive. “We got him matched up on a linebacker a couple times. ... And he’s one of those guys that I think is real good after the ball is in his hands.

“He had a number of big plays, and I think it helps to get him going, certainly early on.”

Thomas also had two catches against a cornerback on the opening drive and one where he settled in an open pocket in the middle of the field.

Thomas didn’t appear to be the first option on his 5-yard touchdown catch, but he got open after cornerback Daryl Worley bounced off him in the end zone and fell to the ground (Worley drew a flag for pass interference that was declined).

“The first touchdown was a really nice play on his part because he ... was able to shake free and make a play on the ball. And that was a good way to start the game,” Brees said. “There are definitely times when you feel like a team has a game plan for somebody and, hey, they’re gonna double him at times. We saw a little bit of that today. ...

“He was able to get open and do great things when he got the ball in his hands.”